15 years since Bradbury's historic gold
16 February 2017
SHORT TRACK SPEED SKATING: One this day, 15 years ago, Australia won its first ever individual Olympic winter gold medal.
The gold medal was won by short track speed skater Steven Bradbury in what is one of the most historic races in Australian sport history.
In the 1000m short track final at the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Olympic Games, Bradbury was in fifth place and 15 metres behind his competitors at the start of the final lap.
In the jostle for the gold medal with only 50 metres to go, his four rivals all collided, tumbled and sprawled around the ice.
Begin at the back of the pack, Bradbury missed the collision and glided alone past the finish line with his arms in the air to claim not only Australia’s first individual winter gold, but the first winter Olympic gold for any individual from any southern hemisphere country.
While some dubbed Bradbury the “accidental hero,” there was nothing undeserving about his victory.
This sensational scene marked the end of a career which had embraced four Olympics, an earlier bronze medal, much sacrifice, and some horrific injuries.
At 17, Bradbury was a member of the squad that won the world short-track relay championship in 1991. Subsequently selected for the Olympics in Albertville in 1992, they were eliminated in the semi-finals after two of them fell.
Two years later in Lillehammer, Bradbury, Richard Nizielski, Andrew Murtha and Kieran Hansen won Australia’s first winter medal ever: a bronze in the 5000m relay.
A year later, Bradbury was involved in the first of two career-threatening accidents.
In a crash in Montreal a rival’s skates sliced through his right thigh, requiring 111 stitches and 18 months’ recovery time, yet he was back on the ice at the Nagano 1988 Olympics.
In 2000 in Sydney, he crashed into a barrier during training and broke his neck; he was told he would never skate again. However, knowing the outcome of the 20002 Games, we know quitting was never a viable option for Bradbury.
In the Salt Lake City 1000m final, he adopted wait-and-see tactics, figuring that some kind of accident was likely, and the plan paid off.
After winning his gold medal, Bradbury struggled with conflicting emotions. He finally, sensibly, came to see it as a reward for 12 long years of toil.